News / Americas

Colombia Congress Vote Almost Assures Santos Lead in Presidential Ballot

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
Reuters
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos heads into presidential elections for a second consecutive term with his lead all but certain -- even while seats for his ruling coalition were trimmed in a congressional vote that cemented his fiercest rival as the main opposition, results showed on Monday.

With most of Sunday's congressional vote counted, Santos' backers had won enough seats in the Senate and lower house to support ongoing peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels and provide a snapshot of national support for the center-right president.

One-time ally turned rival, former President Alvaro Uribe became the biggest opposition force in the legislature, winning 19 seats in the Senate for his Democratic Center party - including one for himself - against 21 for Santos' U Party. In the lower house, the U won 37 seats against Uribe's 12.

Despite losing clout from his coalition in congress, the result bolstered confidence among Santos' backers that he could win a second term in presidential elections on May 25.

“We can win in the first round,” said Sergio Diaz Granados, head of Santos' U Party. “Peace is what will help generate employment, improve security and advance the social reforms the country needs.”

Although right-wing Uribe garnered a large chunk of support in congress, it may be tough to transfer that backing to his presidential candidate, former finance minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Zuluaga has struggled to gain momentum against Santos, picking up 10.8 percent of the vote in a recent Gallup poll against 34.7 percent for the president. A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the ballot to avoid a runoff in June.

Still, Uribe's presence thins Santos' support for steering reforms through the legislature and may complicate the implementation of a peace deal with FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, if talks succeed.

With almost 99 percent of votes counted, 62-year-old Santos' center-right U Party emerged the single biggest party in both congressional houses.

But counting all the seats that make up his coalition - the Conservative, Liberal, Radical Change and U parties - Santos lost some clout.

Santos wants a second term to allow him time to complete negotiations with the FARC that could end a war that has killed more than 200,000 and transform Colombia's political makeup if the rebels' gain the political participation they seek.

Uribe, 61, is a bitter critic of the government who believes the FARC should instead be beaten militarily. His party likely will seek to obstruct legislation if a peace deal is reached that would enable FARC rebels to enter the political system without serving considerable jail time.

Santos called on Uribe to put aside the “hatred” and work in congress for good of the nation.

“There was a very important signal sent to the nation and the whole world, that grand majority of Colombians want peace,” Santos said late on Sunday after the results were revealed.

The secretive peace talks reached a partial accord late last year on the FARC's participation in politics, a highly controversial item on the five-point agenda. Any deal with the rebels would be put to the nation in a referendum, and then to congress to devise laws for its implementation.

Despite slow but encouraging progress at the negotiations in Cuba's capital Havana that began in late 2012, the decision to engage in peace talks with the guerrillas remains divisive and will be pivotal in voters' choice of president in May.

Uribe became the de facto opposition and Santos' fiercest critic shortly after backing him for office in 2010.

The two fell out when Santos mended ties with Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chavez, who had engaged in a diplomatic tussle with Uribe for years. The acrimony worsened when Santos announced peace talks with the FARC, seen as a terrorist group by the United Sates and the European Union.

“Compatriots, today the Democratic Center Party was born. It won't waver before terrorism,” Uribe said on his Twitter account.

Colombia, a recipient of hundreds of million of dollars in annual U.S. anti-narcotics aid, has fought the FARC, right-wing paramilitaries and a smaller rebel group, the ELN, since 1964. More than 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced.

Santos is expected to reveal soon that the ELN will also start peace talks with his government, which is likely to give a further boost to his chances of securing another term.

Santos will also need backing in congress to pass reforms that would help bolster Colombia's $350 billion economy, create new jobs and cut the poverty rate, which affects about half the nation's population of 47 million.

You May Like

US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

NYC mayor says, 'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' yet blizzard warnings, travel bans remain for several East Coast states More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Fidel Castro Appears to Lend Support to Cuba Talks with US

Castro said his long-standing hostility to the US did not mean 'rejection of a peaceful solution'
More

Argentine President Plans to Dissolve Spy Agency

Suspicions abound that rogue agents were behind the mysterious death of a state prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center
More

Peru's Congress Repeals Labor Reform Law

Move comes after thousands took to the streets to protest legislation that cut benefits for young workers, part of reforms aimed at reviving the economy
More

Miss Colombia Takes Miss Universe Crown

Paulina Vega is the first contestant from Colombia to win since 1958
More

Honduran President Hails Drop in Murder Rate

Juan Orlando Hernandez says deployment of special military police has cut country's murder rate, one of the world's highest, by 23 percent
More

Thousands of Venezuelan Opposition Supporters Protest in Caracas

Angry about inflation and shortages of goods, they want an end to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro
More